BET’s "Sunday Best" judge and award-winning singer Jonathan McReynolds is getting ready for the launch of the quarantine version of the singing competition this weekend and says gospel singers and church leaders alike are being forced to see what’s in their hearts as they are not able to lead crowds of people.
The first two episodes of season 10 were filmed from Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, where the top 20 contestants from all across the nation gathered to perform acapella for the celebrity judges — McReynolds, Kirk Franklin, Erica Campbell, and Kelly Price. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, in an effort to keep the judges, contestants and crew safe, they decided to practice social distancing and used innovative technology and artist-generated content to film episodes four through eight of the new season.
The following is an edited transcript of The Christian Post’s interview with McReynolds where the gospel singer shares what viewers can expect from the unique season of the singing competition and how the contestants were forced to truly perform for an audience of one.
Christian Post: Tell us about the new season of "Sunday Best"?
McReynolds: This is my second season, their 10th season, really excited about it. We didn't know how this was going to go, we got three episodes in and then we had to lock it all down. But we were able to create some mini TV studios in our homes and try to work it out there. I really think it turned out pretty well. I'm excited to see the final project but still the great singing and the inspirational moments and all the things that people really love about the show, I think that they stayed true.
CP: How is doing a show in a digital way different and what can the viewers be looking forward to?
McReynolds: I think, especially when it comes to gospel singing, particularly like the traditional gospel way, now I'm not the most traditional gospel person in the world, some of the things that I do are more intimate and it's OK for me to be the only person in the room sometimes, but mainline traditional gospel, it needs people. It needs audience, it needs that energy, and that participation and the amen corner and everything else. So that's missing and so that that sucks for us because we know that there's a different part of a gospel record, is the crowd.
The artists and the contestants in this season had to learn how to almost generate that energy themselves, maintain that engagement, maintain that connection. Honestly, that's what all of us artists have to do right now anyway and so I think it makes sense. It's appropriate for people who are trying to be in the position that we're in, to have to go through that ringer right now and then learn how to to be felt through a screen, and how to sing like nobody's watching because you really can't see anybody watching. So it was weird, but I think it turned out to be good.
I think you guys can really expect some really inspirational moments. One thing that was a little lost on me last season was that this is not just a competition, this is a part of people's lives. These are humans. And even over the COVID pandemic and overall of what's going on there's some gut-wrenching, moments where they were really dealing with loss and dealing with grief and dealing with a whole bunch of other things that were revealed and exacerbated because the situation we're in, I think people are going to really see the humanity in these people and I think that's always a good thing.
CP: There's a spiritual lesson in what you just shared. People are now forced to play or sing to an audience of one. Can you talk about developing that intimacy in worship, praise, singing and gospel, apart from feeding off of the energy of everyone else?
McReynolds: There's a lot of things in our American church that we have overemphasized and possibly made a little more than what the Bible even said it was supposed to be. The first thing that pops in my mind is the difference between a worship leader and a worshiper. I think some of us have gotten very skilled at leading but what about if there's nobody to lead to out there? What about just the worship part? What about the part that is not about bringing people along, it's not about endearing yourself with people, it's not about them appreciating what you're doing? What part of the worship leading was just worshiping? The thing that you’re actually created for. The thing that happens between you and God regardless of what other people feel about it.
In a lot of different ways, the Church is being shaken up. Are you still a word carrier and a researcher when you're not preaching in front of people? Do you still have the same enthusiasm when you don't know if they approve or not? Are you a worshiper or just a worship leader, you make other people worship? What are you? So I just think it's an amazing time that we have to check ourselves for real, there's nothing to distract us, nothing to clap and pat us on the back. We have to really see what the foundation of our hearts and the things that we do, where they lie.
CP: Do you share advice with the contestants about what to expect when coming into the gospel industry?
McReynolds: I'm not alone on that show. I got some legends with me and sometimes, they're even better at sharing because they've been from the valley to the mountaintop, I'm somewhere in the middle. You got Kirk Franklin, Erica Campbell, and Kelly Price that understand the tension.
I think what Kirk Franklin always says is, "Live in that tension." He says, "As long as you living in that tension, you're probably OK." When it gets too easy on one side, when you just seem to be extreme on one side or the other, that's when you probably need to worry. When it's all industry, you probably need to worry. When you don't care about what people think at all, you might need to worry just a little bit because we understand that God has the ultimate approval and all the other stuff, we still have to be cognizant and considerate of the vocation, the job. The part of that other people are relying on. We have people who their livelihood is based on what we do and what we say and if we sometimes endanger them, by going off on Twitter or something like that, that's not fair either. I've always just tried to try to live in that tension because believe it or not, this part of my life, the career, the part that you guys see, that's also a part of me just working out my own salvation in fear and trembling.
This just happens to be my course. Some people are married, some people are not. Some people have a public ministry, some people have private, all of it is a part of your journey in becoming who God wants you to be. Now, this is an interesting way, an interesting route that God wanted to take me on. But at the end of the day, the goal for everybody is to look more like Christ and to be told "well done." When it's all over, regardless of what you do, regardless of how many people knew about it, regardless of how many people celebrated it, did you handle, did you steward what I gave you to the best of your abilities in a way that glorifies me? And so I just want everybody to understand, that's the thing that I understood. I was sitting there, "Man, this is a part of their lives." I don't know what "Sunday Best" is gonna mean in their lives but it is not the end all be all, it is not the destination. God is not trying to just get them to our levels or anything like that. He's trying to teach them something about Himself. So I've just been a lot more cognizant of that, even sitting where I sit.
Watch the full interview below.